The New Yorker, Music, and California in the 1960s



Yesterday, the august  The New Yorker magazine reviewed two new books that have deep relevance for our understanding of what happened in the Bay Area (and California) during the 1960s and how what happened then is critical to understanding our world now, 50 years later.

The first book reviewed is Jesse Jarnow’s Heads: A Biography of Psychedelic America. The review notes that LSD is deeply connected to the development of the Silicon Valley we know today as well as the culture of San Francisco in the mid-60s, drawing connections between what psychoactive drugs meant then and what they could mean today.


The second book, meanwhile, is a new anthology of the writings of Ralph Gleason, the famed Bay Area music writer who wrote pioneering coverage of San Francisco’s jazz and rock scenes in the 1950s and 1960s and helped found Rolling Stone magazine (where Jarnow is a contributing writer).  The review notes, the book (Music in the Air: The Selected Writings of Ralph J. Gleason) contains among “the most revealing and insightful writings about the sixties, and about American culture at large.”


One thing the two books have in common, besides the focus on San Francisco, is: rock music. Jarnow writes about the critical role of the Grateful Dead in his book while the book on Gleason (edited by his son) is nearly totally dedicated to writings on music, from jazz to rock. But far more than the just music. Gleason (like Jarnow with the Dead) “understood…that music was like philosophy in motion, and he recognized that it had unleashed ideas of radical power and historic import…”

Adam Hirschfelder